Thursday, March 21, 2002

Things aren't as they always seem. Competitive intelligence specialists, knowledge management analysts and software engineers share one core skill: information gathering and analysis. It matters little whether you're seeking information about competitors or trying to nail down requirements, the tough part is recognizing what you see for what it is in reality.

The potential for misinterpreting an observation, statement of fact or a more subtle indicator is great. We're human and subject to mental filters that cloud or color our perceptions.

MIT's Perceptual Science Group has some interesting lessons in perception. I was fascinated (and amazed) by the simple, effective demonstrations of lightness perception and lightness illusions. While this doesn't appear to have much to do with information gathering it, in fact, has everything to do with it because it goes to the essence of cognition. We are knowledge workers, and cognition governs how well or poorly we perform any task that calls for analysis or reasoning.

Another resource that provides background material that connects perception with systems under observation, especially complex systems, is New England's Complex Science Institute's page on Visualizing Complex Systems Science.

Granted, this is not your normal fare for IT professionals; however, it does give insights about how we think and provides guidance on how to sort through complex problems. One final site that I think will interest anyone who wants to dig deep into cognition and perception is The Complexity & Artificial Life Research Concept for Self-Organizing Systems. This site isn't about the cutting edge of science and cybernetics - it covers arts and sciences. The page that interested me the most is about Value Metascience and Synergistic Choice. In plain terms the subject is about how to apply complexity thinking to the world around us.

Before you write this off as impractical theory that doesn't apply to what you do, remember this wonderful quote from Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I think what the Bard was trying to convey is to not dismiss something out of hand because it seems to be outside of what you consider to be your frame of reference. The corollary is a quote from George Orwell's 1984:
I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me. It resembles my own mind, except you happen to be insane.
You decide.

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